Sunday, March 10, 2013

SFJAZZ In The Groove 3: Bela, Edgar and Zakir

The names sound like they could be characters in the final Twilight movie, but belong to a trio of musicians who are world masters of their particular instruments: (left to right) Bela Fleck on banjo, Edgar Meyer on bass, and Zakir Hussain on tabla (East Indian percussion). They played their own compositions at the SFJAZZ Center on Saturday night in a three-hour set that felt instantly legendary.

Their music is a strange, sublime, virtuosic fusion of bluegrass, jazz, rock, and both Western and Hindustani Classical traditions. In 2009, the trio recorded an album, The Melody of Rhythm, which included a Triple Concerto written by Meyer for their instruments and a symphonic orchestra.

They have been touring together off and on since that time, and just returned from a month in India where they added the young Indian flutist Rakesh Chaurasia (above) to the mix.

Saturday's concert was the third in a four-night residency at the SFJAZZ Center by Zakir Hussain with different collaborators, and the evening started with SFJAZZ director Randall Kline bringing a birthday cake onstage, since March 9th was Hussain's birthday. The attention seemed to honestly embarrass him, and Zakir threw his shirt over his head, muttering "Nobody better ask me how old I am." This was followed by a graceful introduction from Bela Fleck who mentioned how honored he was to be sharing the stage with Zakir Hussain on his 81st birthday. (For the record, he turned 62 on Saturday.)

The banter between the three musicians all evening was amused and deadpan, no more so than Edgar Meyer above, channeling his inner Vince Vaughn. I heard Meyer a couple of years ago with the New Century Chamber Orchestra, and was very impressed, but last night featured a whole different level of playing. He had his bass sounding like everything from a classical cello to an East Indian sitar to an improvisational jazz instrument. All the musicians were sensational, especially in how they listened and played off of each other, but Meyer was in a class all his own.

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